new Taipei MRT stations and wordy names

detail of a map of the Taipei MRT system, showing 'Nangang Software Park' and 'Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center' on the brown line, connected by bus to 'Nangang' on the blue lineTaipei will soon open a dozen new stations on its mass-transit system, the MRT. Most of the stations will be in the relatively newly developed district of Neihu, with a couple in the Nangang district. It’s the latter two stations I want to focus on:

  • Nangang Software Park
  • Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center

Basically, these names suck.

The most obvious problem is that they both are unnecessarily long, which is not a negligible consideration for not only signage but also the MRT’s announcement system, which is in four languages: Mandarin, Hoklo, Hakka, and English. (It takes a while to get through all of those.)

Also, “Nangang Software Park” (Nángǎng Ruǎntǐ Yuánqū 南港軟體園區)? There is no other software park around the MRT system. Just “Software Park” would work better as a name for the station. Accurate, but also short, simple, and distinctive — just what such a name should be.

BTW, this software park is the source of the name for Taipei’s still-not-corrected Park Street signs.

Worse still is “Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center”. First, calling it even “Nangang Exhibition Center” would be bad enough for the same reason that “Nangang Software Park” is unnecessarily wordy: there’s no “exhibition center” anywhere else on the system.

But “Taipei Nangang”? Ugh. That may work in Mandarin, but it’s lousy English. It follows the same unnaturally inverted pattern and redundancy that gave us “Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport,” or, as I like to call it, Chinglish International Airport. (But I do like it better than “Revere the Dictator Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.”)

Here’s a photo of the exhibition building itself (not the MRT station — though those are the MRT tracks behind the barrier in the foreground).


So “Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center” probably is the official name of the complex. But that really doesn’t matter because (1) the MRT station certainly does not have to have the exact same name and (2) the name is just plain stupid.

Above, I mentioned that names for MRT stations should be “accurate, but also short, simple, and distinctive.” Sticking “Taipei Nangang” in front of “Exhibition Center” makes the name clumsy and less distinctive, especially since the two MRT stations closest to “Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center” are called “Nangang” and “Nangang Software Park”.

Nangang, Nangang, Nangang — yeah, we get it: They’re in Nangang.

Perhaps the MRT would like to change other names to be similarly useful. For example, instead of “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall” we could have “Taipei Zhongzheng Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall;” and in place of, say, “Xindian City Hall” we could have “Taipei County Xindian Xindian City Hall.” (More about the Xindian City Hall station in another post.)

But perhaps those names aren’t nearly informative enough. According to the MRT’s way of thinking, people might still be confused about the location. How about, say, “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia Taiwan Taipei Zhongzheng Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall” and “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia Taiwan Taipei County Xindian Xindian City Hall,” etc.?

I’m happy to report that even the MRT seems to have some reservations about ridiculously long names — at least when those names are in Mandarin. Note the photo of part of the route map (top right of this post). The Mandarin name for “Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center” is Nángǎng Zhǎnlǎnguǎn (南港展覽館), not Táiběi Nángǎng Zhǎnlǎnguǎn (台北南港展覽館). (I didn’t crop any characters from the left of the station name.) So why is “Taipei” in the English version but not in the Mandarin one? Does the city government believe that foreigners are so stupid that they fail to comprehend that the Taipei MRT system is indeed in the Taipei metropolitan area? If so, then maybe they should be giving consideration to my idea of putting at least “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia Taiwan Taipei” in front of all the names in the city of Taipei. This could come in in several versions:

  • “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia Taiwan, Republic of China, Taipei” — for pan-blue traditionalists
  • “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia Taiwan, which is really a country and not a part of China, Taipei” — for the pan-green crowd, and
  • “Planet Earth Northern Hemisphere Asia East Asia China Chinese Taipei Taipei” — for the unificationists and those who like to “q?n Zh?ngguó

Then administrations could have fun changing from one system to another, depending on who was in power.

There’s more to say about this topic (e.g., how the names of stations such as Taipei Zoo, Taipei City Hall, and Xindian City Hall Office do or don’t fit into this pattern). But I’ve already written enough for one post.

And in case anyone is wondering: Yes, I have brought my concerns to the attention of the officials of the MRT. They don’t care. Does anyone have contacts in the media or with politicians?

photo of an entrance to the 'Nangang Software Park Station'

Obama, Bush, vitamin drinks, and puns

Here’s something from an ad I saw on the Taipei subway (MRT). It features cartoons of George W. Bush and Barack Obama shilling for some vitamin drink.

Cartoon figures of Bush and Obama, with Bush disdainfully tossing aside drink cartons labeled 'C' and Obama holding up a bottle of juice labeled 'C'. The text is as described below.

Bush (though he looks a bit more to me like the love child of W and maybe Prince Charles) is saying:

?C ?C

C, bù C.
H? gu?zh? bùnéng zh?y?u wéit?mìng C.

A rough English translation, filling in a few gaps:

Not just vitamin C, not just vitamin C.
When you drink fruit juice, you should not settle for just vitamin C.

Note: The C is italicized in the Pinyin version to emphasize that this is pronounced like a foreign (i.e., English) letter C rather than how C is pronounced in the Pinyin alphabet. The reason for this is that “bù C” is a pun on “Bush”, whose name in Taiwan is generally pronounced in Mandarin as Bùx?, unlike in China, where it is usually pronounced Bùshí.

Obama’s lines are more interesting:

?????? (??)

Read in Mandarin this is:

?ub?m? [Obama], ?ub?m? (Táiy?).
M?i gu?zh? bù yào h?ibái m?i.

And roughly in English this is

Obama, Obama (Taiwanese)
When you buy fruit juice, don’t buy just whatever

But the text tells people to read ??? (?ub?m?/Obama) as Taiwanese (Táiy?), which means that it’s pronounced Au3-peh4-be2, which is a pun with what is written, in red for emphasis, ???.

??? in Mandarin is h?ibái m?i, which means to buy things indiscriminantly. In Hoklo (Taiwanese), however, this expression is O.1-peh4-boe2, thus a pun on Au3-peh4-be2 (Obama).

Also, h?ibái by itself is simply “black [and] white” (as in Obama and Bush).

And Obama’s name, like Bush’s, has different Mandarin forms in Taiwan and China. But that doesn’t have much to do with the ad.

As always, I welcome those who (unlike me) know Taiwanese romanization well to correct anything that needs fixing.

weiird typos

The Qíngtiāngāng part of Yangming Shan National Park (Yángmíng Sh?n Guóji? G?ngyuán / ???????), to the north of Taipei, is distinguished by grasslands high in the mountains — the sort of open, natural place that, though not spectacular, might still make someone used to living in crowded northern Taiwan want to do the Julie-Andrews-hills-are-alive twirl. But, as usual, I’m only going to show you some signs. Here goes.

wooden directional signs reading '???????? Ciingtiangang Visitor Center / ??? Siyuiannciiao / ?????? Parking-Lot Shanghuangsiyi'

wooden directional sign reading '??????? The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road'

wooden directional signs reading '??? FenggueiKou' and '??? Mt.Jhwugao'

Ciingtiangang, Siyuiannciiao, Jiinbaolyi. Normally the presence of doubled vowels indicates the use of Gwoyeu Romatzyh (e.g., rice-flour noodles as miifeen rather than Hanyu Pinyin’s m?f?n). But these signs are most definitely not in Gwoyeu Romatzyh. They’re just really screwed-up Tongyong Pinyin.

Sign Tongyong Pinyin Hanyu Pinyin Gwoyeu Romatzyh
Ciingtiangang Cingtiangang Qíngtiāngāng Chyngtiangang
Siyuiannciiao Syuyan ciao Xǔyán qiáo Sheuyan chyau
Shanghuangsiyi Shanghuangsi tingchechang Shànghuángxī tíngchēchǎng Shanqhwangshi
The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road Jinbaoli dalu chengmen Jīnbāolǐ dàlù chéngmén Jinbaulii dahluh cherngmen
FenggueiKou Fongguei Kou Fēngguì kǒu Fengguey koou
Mt.Jhwugao Jhugao Shan Zhúgāo Shān Jwugau Shan

Two of Tongyong Pinyin’s most distinctive features are the use of jh– for what in Hanyu Pinyin is zh– and the use of fong rather than the feng found in Hanyu Pinyin, MPS2, Wade-Giles, Yale, and Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But whoever produced these signs couldn’t get even those right, as shown by Jhwugao and FenggueiKou.

A few misc. notes:

  • FenggueiKou: Die, InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion, die! Or in this case perhaps I should write IntercapitalizaTion.
  • It’s supposed to be “km”, not “Km”.
  • Even the signs that got “km” correct left out the necessary space before it.
  • The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road: An initial “The” is almost never needed on such signs; indeed, its presence is counterproductive. And the capitalized “Of” is amateurish.
  • Parking-Lot Shanghuangsiyi: Oh, that’s just too depressing.
  • Ciingtiangang Vistor Center: Leaving out that extra i would help the missing s fit in, as would abbreviating “center” or simply leaving out Qingtiangang altogether. It’s not like there are any other visitors’ centers around there to confuse people. But since the English-speaking world is filled with places marked “visitor center”, it’s probably not worth having mentioned.
  • Siyuiannciiao: I’m puzzled that ciao/qiao wasn’t translated as bridge (and written with a space before it). Is there not actually a bridge there?
  • Mt.Jhwugao: Again, are spaces really all that difficult?
  • I could probably talk about the orthography of a few of the names (e.g., Jinbao Li vs. Jinbaoli, Shanghuang Xi vs. Shanghuangxi, Fenggui Kou vs. Fengguikou); but that’s something well beyond the common awfulness of these signs. And it might also require some research, such as finding the answer to “Is there really a stream [x?] at Shanghuangxi/Shanghuang Xi?”)

The government’s list of Pinyin and English terms related to Yangming Shan National Park, Yángmíng Sh?n Guóji? G?ngyuán xi?nggu?n míngcí, doesn’t give any of those incorrect forms. (Anyway, the list, which is in Tongyong Pinyin, is now outdated because of the switch — at least on paper — to Hanyu Pinyin.) And I can’t think of any good reason for the doubled i’s, the interposed y’s, or the other errors. Apparently, these signs are just plain-ol’ awful.

So I don’t have anything particularly interesting to note about the linguistics of this. But I do have a point other than that some typos are weiird weird enough that I can’t help but mention them. Rather, it’s worth noting that just because over the past few years many signs — but not nearly as many people believe — went up in tòng yòng, er, T?ngyòng Pinyin, this doesn’t mean the signs were done properly and wouldn’t require replacement even if Taiwan weren’t switching to Hanyu Pinyin.

another nail in the coffin of nicknumbering

I haven’t posted anything in Pinyin lately. So here’s a story from a couple of days ago, giving some of the history of Taipei’s stupid and now disavowed “nicknumbering” system, under which the city’s main roads were given numbers for the supposed convenience of foreigners. But since no locals knew these numbers, the nicknumbering system helped basically no one find anything — something the city should have figured out before it wasted all that money putting up signs. The real problem was that the romanization on the city’s signs was FUBAR — something that was finally addressed a little later.

Táib?i shìyìyuán L? X?n zh?ch?, Táib?i shìzhèngf? zài Mínguó 89 nián [2000 — I’ve changed the rest of the dates to international years] tu?ch? de “dàji? dàdào” (lùpái ji?zhù Y?ngwén xùhào) zhèngcè, jìngrán zài 7 yuè j?ng shìzh?ng H?o Lóngb?n tóngyì, juédìng “bù wán le”. T? tòng p? shì-f? zhèngcè f?nfù, bànl? d?nwèi Mínzhèngjú zéwúpángdài, y?ng g?i shìmín y? ge ji?odài.

Mínzhèngjú bi?oshì, z?o zài 2002 nián t?ngy? sh?yòng Hàny? P?ny?n qián, y? tu?dòng “dàji? dàdào” zhèngcè, gù bùfen bi?oshì pái c?i T?ngyòng P?ny?n, li?ngzh? luóji bìngbù y?zhì; c?wài, yuèláiyuè du? wàijí gu?ngu?ngkè juéde lái Táiw?n jiùshì yào t?huì “Zh?ng-xiào, Rén’ài, Xìnyì, Hépíng” de Rúji? j?ngshén shì mìngmíngf?, shùzì xíng ji?dào míng f?n’ér xi?nde méiy?u tèsè.

Mínzhèngjú juédìng cóngshànrúliú, g?i y? Hàny? P?ny?n zuòwéi t?ngy? yìy?n, bùzài zhíxíng “dàji? dàdào” zhèngcè.

L? X?n bi?oshì, shì-f? y? “f?zh?n gu?ngu?ng, xiézhù wàijí rénshì biànrèn” wéi yóu, 2000 nián q? dàzh?ngqíg?, ji?ng shìnèi 10 tiáo d?ng-x? xiàng zh?yào dàolù dìng míngwéi “dì-y? zhì dì-shí dàdào”; 14 tiáo nán-b?i xiàng zh?yào dàolù dìng míngwéi “dì-y? zhì dì-shísì dàji?”.

Bùj?n zài zhèxi? lùduàn de lùpái, shì-f? xu?nchuánp?n d?u x?nz?ng xi?nggu?n Y?ngwén bi?oshì, y? y?oqiú yuánj?ng shújì, y?biàn zh?y?n wàijí gu?ngu?ngkè.

Bùliào shíguòjìngqi?n, céngj?ng bèi lièwéi qián Táib?i shìzh?ng M? Y?ngji? zhòngyào zhèngjì de dàji? dàdào zhèngcè, y?n shísh? guòchéng hùnluàn, xiàogu? bùji?, y? yóu H?o Lóngb?n qi?nzì juédìng “sh?ub?ng” bùzài sh?xíng, wèilái ji?ng zhúbù y? Hàny? P?ny?n t?ngy? yìy?n.

Mínzhèngjú bi?oshì, 1998 nián gu?ngu?ng w?iyuánhuì w?iyuán k?ihuì shí, d?ngshí yà d?u lí zhì z?ngcái Yán Chángshòu tích? f?ngxiào guówài dàji? dàdào mìngmíng f?ngshì, huòk? tísh?ng lái Táiw?n gu?ngu?ng de wàijí l?kè, zài Táib?i jiào yì biànshí f?ngwèi; shì-f? j?ngguò du?f?ng píngg?, 2000 nián zhèngshì tu?dòng dàji? dàdào zhèngcè.

Bùguò zài lùpái ji?zhù Y?ngwénb?n dàji? dàdào míng hòu, duì wàijí l?kè b?ngzhù bùdà, bùsh?o b?ndì mínzhòng bèi wèndào “dì-y? dàdào zài n?li?” f?n’ér y? tóu wùshu?, g?nb?n huídá bù ch?lai. Y?nc? ji?xiàlái shì-f? huì zhúnián bi?nliè yùsuàn, y? Hàny? P?ny?n t?ngy? lùpái yìy?n.

Thanks, Dan, for alerting me to this.

source: Dàji? dàdào bù wán le — yìyuán tòng p? (??????? ????), United Daily News, October 27, 2008

Park Street redux

As some of you may recall, last October I wrote about finding official signs for a Taipei street that used English rather than romanization (Street names in English translation: trend or error?).

Some of the signs for what is written in Hanzi “???” (Yuánq? Ji?) read, in Taipei’s standard but stupid InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion, “YuanQu St.” while others read “Park St.” (which, by the way, is a misleading translation). I called the Taipei City Government about this and was informed that Park was an error and that the signs would be fixed to read Yuanqu.

Nearly a year has gone by since then. Have any of the street signs been changed?

The answer is yes. The signs, including some new ones, are indeed consistent. All of them now read — have you guessed it yet? — “Park St.”

That’s right: They eliminated the signs that were correct and put up new signs that are wrong. I’m trying to relax, so I won’t write out all of the many maledictions I have been muttering about Taipei City Government and its bureaucracy.

Here’s one of the street signs in October 2007:
YuanQu St.

Here’s the same sign in August 2008:
Park St.

A close-up, showing how “Park” was pasted over “YuanQu”.
closeup of the sign, showing how 'Park' was pasted over 'YuanQu'

Taipei to stick with Hanyu Pinyin, despite pressure from central gov’t: mayor

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (H?o Lóngb?n / ???) said on Sunday that Taipei will not switch from Hanyu Pinyin to Tongyong Pinyin, despite pressure from the Ministry of the Interior to do so.

Questioned by reporters at the wedding of Taiwan’s top “Go” player, Hau stressed that the Taipei City Government would continue to use Hanyu Pinyin despite the Interior Ministry’s push as it’s the most commonly used pinyin system in the international community.

“Taipei City has decided to continue using Hanyu Pinyin to connect with other countries in the world,” Hau said.

He suggested that the Interior Ministry consult with linguistic scholars and learn to respect their expertise when standardizing the romanization of Taiwan’s place and street names.

Yes, the MOI would do well to follow this advice — as would the Taipei City Government itself. Taipei’s stupid @#$%! InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion and lack of apostrophes are significant errors. And sometimes the lack of tone marks is a problem. And don’t get me started about Taipei’s “nicknumbering” system.

Taipei City is the only city in Taiwan that has adopted Hanyu Pinyin.

This is incorrect. Several cities around Taiwan use Hanyu Pinyin, such as Xinzhu and Taizhong, though none as consistently as Taipei.

TVBS is reporting that Taipei will be forced to switch, which I very much doubt will happen — certainly not before the presidential election in March 2008.

Nèizhèngbù de xíngzhèng mìnglìng y?dàn b?nbù, bùyòng sòngji?o Lìyuàn tóngyì, Táib?i shìzhèngf? zh?y?u zhàobàn de fèn, 5 nián qián, M? Y?ngji? qiángshì zh?d?o Hàny? P?ny?n, ràng Táib?i Shì chéngwéi t? y?nzh?ng, g?n guójì ji?gu? de d?shì, 5 nián hòu, Nèizhèngbù dìngdìng f?lìng qi?ngpò zhíxíng, g?i le y? jì huím?qi?ng.

TVBS also gives the cost for changing Taipei’s signs at NT$8 million (US$250,000).

The TVBS video gives lots of pictures of signs.


Taipei City Government screws the English language again

In addition to skewering Tongyong Pinyin in his latest column, Johnny Neihu reports on a new Web site from the Taipei City Government with bizarre romanization and completely crappy English.

However, it hasn’t taken long for things [in Taipei’s English-language environment] to start deteriorating — 11 months to be precise. Mayor Hau Lung-bin (???) has already begun to make his mark, if the English moniker of the metropolis’ most recent culinary fiesta is anything to go by.

I am talking about Taipei’s “Newrow Mian” Festival, which, for those ignorant of Mayor Hau’s personal Romanization system, means beef noodles. “Newrow”? It sounds more like the sort of French-accented Mandarin you would expect from a badly congested Inspector Clouseau if they ever made The Pink Panther in Beijing. But then what can you expect from a mayor with a master’s degree in food science?

Any laowai getting into a cab and asking for a lift to the nearest “newrow” store will no doubt be greeted with a look more vacant than that of Hau at a council meeting.

My guess is that the city government brokered some sort of deal on purchasing livestock for the festival with “La New” of shoes fame. The city got the right to use La New’s dodgy transliteration of the Mandarin word for cow, and so the carcasses were split, with the shoe company getting the leather and the noodle festival getting the beef, so to speak.

But the title of the noodle extravaganza was not the only questionable translation circulating last week. One of the festival’s contests was named the “International Teamwork Intercourse Competition.” What that has to do with beef noodles is anyone’s guess, but I bet the tickets sold pretty fast.

The Web site was set up to promote a “festival” for one of Taipei’s standard foods: niúròumiàn (beef noodle soup / ???).

This is yet another example of Taiwan trying to promote its English-language environment by using machine-generated Chinglish, and by coming up with Anglicizations that don’t work as romanizations of Mandarin and mean nothing to local Mandarin speakers. Although the sound of the English word “row” is not too far from that of the Mandarin ròu, “new” for niú is a much bigger stretch. In fact, “new” is probably closer to n? (?), meaning female, which would give us a female flesh festival (n? ròu jié). Maybe the organizers could work in that International Teamwork Intercourse Competition after all. Now that would likely be a successful tourist draw, albeit the wrong sort.

This gives me an excuse to toss in something for lagniappe: niúròu ch?ng (???), which literally means “beef area” but which is actually a slang term for a place with strippers — a place to see “meat” on display. (Compare this with English, in which “beefcake” refers to men, not women.) Even within the not-so-high-class world of strip joints, niurou chang are relatively low class.

According to the 2005 Mandarin-language article linked to below, niurou chang began in Taiwan in 1984. The article also provides an etymolgy, though perhaps an invented one.

Bi?oy?n de nèiróng d?u g?n niúròu wúgu?n, wèihé jiào niúròu ch?ng?

Yuánlái niúròu de Táiy? jiù zuò “y?u ròu,” su?y? lù “ròu,” mài ròu de su?zài jiù jiào “niúròu ch?ng.” Zhèige bù mài ròu què jiào “niúròu ch?ng de sèqíng ch?ngsu?.”

This states that such places were originally called in Taiwanese “have meat,” which sounds like “reveal flesh.” Perhaps Taffy, A-giâu, or someone else who knows Taiwanese can comment.

Just in case the Taipei City Government should develop a sense of shame and fix the English on this Web site (ha!), click on the image for a screen shot of the first page of the English site.
website image reading '2007 Taipei International Newrow Mian Festival' and '????????' (i.e., Taibei guoji niuroumian jie)


Street names in English translation: trend or error?

Taipei street sign reading '??? Park St.'Ah, Park Street: Taipei’s lovely tree-lined boulevard next to a wonderful oasis of well-manicured nature.


Here, “park” refers to Nangang Software Park (Náng?ng Ru?nt? Yuánq?, ??????), an area in eastern Taipei of new buildings housing mainly software-development and biomedical companies. The software park itself is a pretty nice place and looks fine; its surrounding area, however, is anything but green and leafy, comprising mainly dreary brick buildings and vacant lots.

But what’s odder than the name itself is that it appears in English rather than in the mix of Hanyu Pinyin (with StuPid, StuPid InTerCapITaLiZaTion) and English (e.g., St., Rd.) that has become standard in Taipei. Also odd is that at one end of the street the signs read “Park St,” but at the other end “YuanQu St.” This is a fairly new street name, as the software park is only a few years old.

Taipei street sign reading '??? YuanQu St.'

The flash on my camera helps reveal that the part of the sign reading “YuanQu St.” is pasted on top of something else — quite possibly “Park St.”

I spent about 15 minutes today getting my phone call to the Taipei City Government transferred from one desk to another before I was able to speak with someone who knew what she was doing. She stated that the Park Street version is in error and would be corrected to Yuanqu Street.

I really wish I’d asked for her extension number, because I’m certain to be making similar calls in the future.